Given that Massachusetts is neighbor to states with more rural reputations -- we’re thinking Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont -- it may surprise some folks living within an Uber ride of Boston that the Bay State has long had a hunting history of its own.
Those traditions, however, are in danger, not just from climate change and municipal sprawl but from illicit hunting. The enforcement of rules surrounding the sport has become so lax that the state has come to be known as a safe haven for poachers. Wildlife officials estimate that for every animal taken legally, at least one other is poached. Such illegal, out-of-season hunting isn’t just bad for game management, it can be dangerous when poachers are operating in woods frequented by outdoors enthusiasts.
“Right now, we’re unfortunately known as a paradise for poachers,” Stephanie Harris, Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told Statehouse reporter Christian Wade. “They know they can come here and poach animals and not face consequences, even if they’ve been convicted of illegal hunting in their own state.”
The problem has made allies of hunters, animal protection groups and state lawmakers. A bill sponsored by Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, among others, would stiffen penalties for those caught illegally hunting or trapping in the Bay State’s forests.
“Many of the fines for poaching are too low, which isn’t a deterrent,” Ehrlich said of the current law. “They’re basically letting willful offenders off with a slap on the wrist.”
The proposal would add the state to a national database that shares information about poachers, meaning someone caught illegally hunting or fishing elsewhere would not be able to get a license here. Fines for killing a range of animals from squirrels and raccoons to deer and bald eagles would run from $50 to as much as $10,000 for multiple offenses. Repeat violators could also face prison time.
These are common-sense changes, and should move through the Legislature quickly.